Screen/Society--Cine-East: East Asian Cinema--"THE ANTS" (Ari no Heitai)
The Ants (Ari no Heitai)
(Kaoru Ikeya, 2006, 101 min, Japan, in Japanese w/ English subtitles, Color, DVD)
Introduced by Tanya Lee from the Full Frame Archive in the Duke University Libraries!
A quiet fury informs Japanese director’s Kaoru Ikeya’s documentary The Ants, which probes his homeland’s military history and locates a raw nerve. Waichi Okumura was one of over a thousand Japanese soldiers (the “ants” of the title) who remained in China after the conclusion of World War II, ostensibly to “incubate new military cells” but really to be used by the Chinese Nationalists in the battle against Mao’s forces. The Japanese government has always maintained that these soldiers were there voluntarily, but Okumura (now a stooped octogenarian) has aligned himself with a group of elderly veterans looking to debunk the official story — after an initial foray into the courtroom fails, Okumura heads for China in search of printed proof.
Okumura and his colleagues may rage against a system that abandoned them as cannon fodder, but they don’t deny their participation in wounding and killing innocent people. Nor are they looking to be excused under the aegis of “just following orders”: Okumura’s recollections of a “final exam” in which he had to perfect his bayonet stroke on living targets — or of the time he served as lookout during a gang-rape — constitute the long-overdue excavation of a guilty conscience. But there’s also a deeply moving moment when an aged Chinese woman, recounting her own brutal treatment at the hands of the loaned soldiers, tells Okumura he seems to be a decent man — that we may feel inclined to agree speaks not to directorial manipulation but Ikeya’s clear-eyed take on a darkly clouded subject.
-- Part of Cine-East: East Asian Cinema.
-- Winner of the Humanitarian Award (Documentary) at the 2006 Hong Kong International Film Awards!
Cost: Free and Open to the Public
Sponsors: Program in Arts of the Moving Image (AMI), Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, Libraries-Special Collections and Asian Pacific Studies Institute